Sunday, April 27, 2008

Down on the Snake Farm, Chapter One

One of the nicest things about growing up in the country was having our own pool. Forty feet long, it sat sparkling in the middle of our front lawn. (Keep in mind this was the country – we baled our front lawn.) However the sparkling only occurred if we cleaned it daily, vacuuming the bottom, skimming bugs off the top, and retrieving thirsty but clumsy mice, frogs, and snakes.

Yes, one of the hazards of the great outdoors is that animals tend to live there. Cute animals as well as gnarly, nasty, legless lizard-types.

One afternoon, after vacuuming, skimming, etc., I decided to take a nap on a chaise lounge next to the pool. It was hot so I wore my bathing suit, hoping to erase a bit of my farmer’s tan. I was dozing off when a small, skritchy sound awakened me. It was coming from directly beneath my lounge chair, so I leaned over to see what it was.

“HISSS!!!!” screeched a herd of tiny snakes, swarming in the shade of my chair. A couple of them coiled and puffed up, rising like itty bitty cobras. I’d never seen anything like it, and would have preferred to continue not seeing anything like it. But there they were, at least five hissing, puffing junior vipers, within inches of my bikinied bottom.

More were coming out from under the edge of the pool and heading for the shade. My shade. Apparently a momma snake had laid a clutch of eggs in the cool dampness next to the pool liner. I was, unfortunately, welcoming them to the world.

I froze. The snakelets settled. I waited, hoping they’d leave. They settled some more. “Shoo!” I waved my hand at them. “HISSS!!!!” they replied. This was beginning to look like a very long day.

They settled down again. More newly hatched vipers joined their older siblings. Maybe if I extended my leg really, really far from the lounge chair I could manage to leap away from the chair....

“Hissss!”

No such luck. Somehow this sort of thing only happened to me. Somehow, someday, it would all make sense. Either that or some universal entity was bored and messing with my kharma just for kicks. Getting attacked by a chicken was one thing. Getting chomped by a swarm of angry mini-cobras was entirely another. Please God, don’t make me have to explain this at school.

I yelled for my brother. “Help!!”

“Hissss!” came the chorus from below.

“Shut up!” I yelled at the snakes. “For newborns, you’ve got a lot of nerve!” Some of them were rather large. I wondered if they could slither up the chair leg.

“Help!!”

“Hissss!” By now there were quite a few of them milling around down there. Maybe I was dreaming. What kind of snake puffs up and rises like a cobra anyway? I knew all the local type snakes –black snake, garter snake, Ray-the-cowboy-wanna-be, water moccasin, and puff adder. The last two were poisonous, but none of them acted like this. Strange.

Then I remembered the snake farm down the road.

The Montfort Reptile Institute was a quirky place. Mr. Montfort collected snakes and icky, crawly things. He milked poisonous snakes and sold their venom to places that made anti-venin from it. We met him when our cows broke through our fence and were grazing in the field behind his place. As my siblings and I gathered our herd for the trip home, my mom apologized for our cows trespassing. “We’re so sorry our cows got out,” she said in a voice you might use to apologize for spilling tea.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Mr. Montfort. “Happens to me all the time with my snakes.”

In my entire life, I never left a field quicker.

“Help!!”

“Hisss!”

I was going to die here, in my bathing suit, fifteen years old, chewed up by a swarm of teeny, weird, poisonous snakes. I’d become another local legend, like Mitch the mechanic who thought he could fly, and Mrs. Bartagas, my piano teacher with forty-three cats and a horse that told her what to make for dinner.

Stupid brother – where was he? What did baby snakes eat, anyway? I guessed they weren’t vegetarians.

“Help!!”

“Hisss!”

“Tommy, heeelp!” I promised myself I’d never be mean to him again. I promised to never tickle him until he peed, or make him laugh while he was drinking milk, or any of the other mean things I had planned to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet.

“Hisss!” The sun was setting. I was shivering and the snakes showed no sign of leaving. Hopefully they weren’t looking for a warm place to spend the night.

“Whut?” My brother, irritated, poked his head around the corner of the house. “What’s your problem?”

“Get down here!” I shrieked at him, relieved but remarkably, still a bossy older sister. “Get down here now! There are snakes everywhere! Snakes! Now! Here!”

“Hisss!”

“Whut?” Tom mumbled again. What part of my screeching did he not understand? At least he was finally meandering down to the pool. And starting to realize there might be something wrong. For the first time in my life, I regretted depriving him of oxygen as a child.

“Snakes!” I hissed. “Everywhere. Look!”

He started to come over and stopped. “Whoa,” he remarked. “There are snakes under your chair!”

“Get something to get rid of them before they hurt me.” I bit my tongue and added, “Please.”

“Wow,” Tom continued. “They’re hatching by the pool. There must be at least fifteen of them. They look like they’re poisonous.”

“If you get me out of here,” I stated slowly, “I will give you a chocolate bar. Real chocolate this time. No Ex-lax.”

“Promise?” he asked.

“Yes, yes, yes! Go get a broom, please.”

“Even better,” Tom grinned, “I’ll get the shotgun.”

“Tom, if you blast a hole in the pool, Dad will get mad.” I didn’t bother mentioning any potential damage to me. He might think it worthwhile.

He threw a beach towel over the end of the lounge chair, so the snakes couldn’t see what was going on. Then, wearing thick boots, he scooted closer, reached out, and grabbed my hand, pulling me off the chair.

“Hisss!” as the chair wobbled, empty above them.

He swept as many as he could into some big storage cans and sealed the lids. The cans rocked back and forth as the snakes puffed, snarled and coiled about inside them. I changed my clothes and took the snakes down to our friendly neighborhood reptile institute. I wanted to know what they were. But first I gave my brother the biggest chocolate bar I had.

To be continued….

2 comments:

ScottMGS said...

Oh, come on! To be continued?

What kind were they?

insomniac said...

and did you, in time, become their queen?